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A large uprooted evergreen tree leans over a West Fargo home Sunday evening along Main Avenue. David Samson / The Forum

Storm rips through Red River Valley to leave trail of damage and debris

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FARGO - A thunderstorm packing winds in excess of 70 mph tore through the Red River Valley late Monday, leaving behind a massive swath of damage and debris.

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Tornado sirens in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area sounded at 8:54 p.m. as the storm brought a wave of heavy rain and strong winds, snapping power poles, downing electric lines and trees, and littering darkened streets and yards with branches, garbage and construction debris.

Xcel Energy reported more than 26,000 customers lost service in Fargo and West Fargo as crews scrambled to restore power. Power outages also were reported throughout the region, including Moorhead, Dilworth and many other communities.

Neighbors reported flames 15 to 20 feet in the air Monday night after a fire tore through an apartment at a historic Moorhead building at 121 6th Ave. S. about 9:30 p.m.

Smoke damage was visible on the outside of the building, a former elementary school now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

At least one injury was reported in Moorhead after a tree fell on a woman's vehicle on Seventh Avenue South near Sixth Street. She had glass in her hands and face, but her injuries weren't believed to be serious, according to the dispatch call and police.

Greg Gust, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said most of the damage was likely due to high winds.

Winds of more than 70 mph were reported at Hector International Airport around 9 p.m.

"At this point, most of the damage that we've been hearing about has been wind damage," Gust said. "It's possible there may be some tornado damage interspersed within that."

Gust said a supercell thunderstorm forced its way north and northeast, from eastern Nebraska into eastern North Dakota.

"Early in the development, it started as supercell thunderstorms that were producing funnel cloud reports and possible tornado touchdowns," Gust said. "The squall line that took over in the evening hours was predominately downburst winds."

Gust said the weather service was still gathering reports of damage throughout the valley but, as of press time, had no confirmations of tornado touchdowns.

Firefighters, police and energy company employees fanned out across the metro as the first reports of injuries and power outages, which knocked out street lamps and traffic signals, inundated dispatchers.

Residents gathered on curbs, some with lanterns, in a light rain to assess the damage after the worst of the storm passed. The sounds of generators could be heard in some neighborhoods.

In north Fargo, a large tree toppled in the 1100 block of Fourth Street, and power lines were down on 25th Avenue near 10th Street and another in the 1100 block of Third Street.

No one was injured when a telephone pole slammed into a car in the parking lot of the Taco Shop on South University Drive.

The car belongs to Amy Huseby, 20, an employee at the shop. Huseby and fellow employee, Blake Peterson, 17, were the only two in the store at the time of the storm.

Huseby said she was waiting for her father to pick her up before they could close the store and go home.

Assistant Fargo Fire Chief Dean Meyer said roofs were blown off at several apartment buildings, including one at 5031 44th Ave. S.

Meyer said morning commuters can expect to find some streets still blocked by downed trees and debris.

"People will still be able to get around, but there are going to be some streets blocked, to be sure," he said.

No major fires and no serious injuries were reported in Fargo as a result of the storm as of 10:30 p.m., said Meyer and Fargo Police Lt. Joel Vettel.

Railroad underpasses were flooded at 25th Street and Main Avenue and at 45th Street and Third Avenue North. Police blocked the underpasses, but not before a vehicle stalled out in each one, Vettel said.

The top of a bus stop shelter blew off and landed on Broadway, he said.

Travis Norton, 31, had friends over at his apartment one block south of the Cass County Courthouse when the storm hit.

"We tried to plug in the radio to see what was going on, and right as we were doing it, the power went out," he said, describing a scenario that frustrated many F-M residents who lost power.

In the storm's aftermath, Norton saw tree branches engulfing his roommate's Honda Accord parked on the street. He didn't know the extent of the damage.

"I didn't really want to get too close to it. There's power lines down," Norton said, speaking through a window screen from the safety of his apartment.

A semitrailer was reported tipped over on Interstate 94 east of Moorhead at mile marker 6. The driver was trapped, but injuries were unknown.

A Moorhead dispatcher said a downed branch on power lines was causing sparking in Felton, Minn.

The storm moved through Fargo-Moorhead about 9 p.m. before moving to the north.

Uprooted trees near Reiles Acres and leaning power lines near Harwood were reported by Cass County Sheriff's Cpl. Shawn Getz.

"A lot of what we're dealing with is wind damage," Getz said. "But since it's pretty dark, it's tough to get a real good look out here."

Richland County Emergency Manager Brett Lambrecht said strong winds destroyed all of the outbuildings on the Sorge farm about one mile northeast of Walcott. A corner of the house sustained some damage, but the family was able to stay there, he said.

Damage in Richland County ranged from downed tree branches and power outages in Hankinson to winds ripping the roof off the fire station in Walcott, where residents also went without electricity and some homes had shingles and siding sheared off, Lambrecht said.

The public reported a tornado near Barney, about 18 miles west of Wahpeton, at 8:28 p.m., the weather service said.

Strong winds sheared the tops off trees and knocked down branches as the storm tore through Forman around 8 p.m., Sargent County Sheriff Travis Paeper said.

"From what I could see, I couldn't see any damage to any residential areas," Paeper said. However, winds were strong enough to scatter loose sheet metal and garbage cans around town, he said.

Forman also got hit with brief heavy rain. Mayor Mark Bopp said his digital rain gauge measured .38 inch of rainfall in just 20 minutes, and light rain was still falling.

"We've got all kinds of lightning. It's still lightning like the devil," he said at 8:20 p.m.

According to a Norman County dispatcher, some areas in the county experienced downed trees and power lines but no injuries were reported.

In Otter Tail County, a dispatcher said most damage occurred in the city of Ottertail where a home lost its roof and many power lines were down, some across vehicles. The city's fire department was on scene. No injuries were reported.

Earlier in the day, the weather service reported a wide range in temperatures, from the high 80s in southeast North Dakota to the 50s in the northern stretches of the state. By 4:03 p.m., the weather service issued a tornado watch for 31 counties in Minnesota, five counties in North Dakota and eight counties in South Dakota.

At 6 p.m., temps rose to 85 degrees in Fargo as the heat index soared to 90.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Forum editors Hayden Goethe and Steve Wagner contributed to this article.

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